Hugo Chavez and the singing judge
Chávez was supposed to return to Venezuela yesterday; instead, the Venezuelan TV stations broadcast a video he taped in Cuba Lord-knows-when,
He says he forgives those who wish him ill, claims to have made a pact with God, and rambles on with other nonsense,
“For those who have bad wishes for me, I pardon them … I have great faith in what we’re doing in this intense work against the disease that ambushed me last year… To live, to continue living and each additional day to continue giving this life to a people, to a revolution,” the leftist leader said.
The new images come after on Monday Chavez, who has been in Cuba since April 14 to undergo radiation therapy, quashed rumors about an alleged worsening in his health.
He said in the video that he had made a kind “of pact” with God “for the treatment” that he is “rigorously following to have supreme success” and that he can “continue stepping up the pace.”
It happened every week. On Friday mornings, Venezuela’s top prosecutor, the justice minister, the solicitor general, assorted Supreme Court justices, police chiefs and top officials would meet in the vice president’s office to review politically sensitive court cases and decide how they should be handled. In each instance, the vice president had the last word: dismissal, acquittal or conviction.
Venezuela’s entire criminal justice system, it turns out, is an elaborate pantomime — a farce in which politicians bark orders and judges carry them out, no questions asked, or pay for their insolence with their jobs or even their freedom.
This is an account of Venezuela you might expect to hear from one of President Hugo Chávez’s right-wing opponents. In fact, it comes not from some aggrieved party but from one of the principals: Eladio Aponte, formerly the president of the Venezuelan Supreme Court’s Penal Chamber — the country’s final arbiter in all matters criminal — who gave a tell-all interview last week to a Venezuelan journalist working for the Miami-based television channel SOiTV.
Aponte earned his revolutionary bona fides as the military prosecutor general, establishing himself as a loyal Chávez lieutenant, willing to follow orders from on high without hesitation. His promotion in 2005 to the highest level of Venezuela’s justice system followed as a matter of course. That perch gave him the authority to decide which lower-court judge would preside over any given case. It also made him privy to the extraordinarily sensitive information handled at those Friday meetings.
Then — and these details are still murky — Aponte seems to have stepped on some very important toes. Earlier this year, the National Assembly, which is Chavista through and through, dismissed him from his post on the Supreme Court and moved to charge him for a relatively minor crime. Aponte, who knows the beast from the inside, could see which way the wind was blowing and fled the country.
Last week a plane from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration took him to the United States, where Aponte, who reportedly had specialized in getting politically connected drug traffickers within the Venezuelan military out of trouble, began to collaborate with U.S. counternarcotics investigators.
In the whistleblowing interview, Aponte says that “everyone from the president on down” would call him to ask for trials to be tampered with in different ways. Political opponents of the regime were routinely framed, including elected officials like José Sánchez Montiel, a member of the National Assembly who served years in jail on a murder charge that Aponte describes as purely trumped up. And to hear Aponte, that was all in a day’s work.
Indicted drug kingpin Walid Makled says Aponte was on his payroll to the tune of 300million bolivares per month (approx. US$70,000). Makled is on trial in Venezuela since the Obama administration dragged its feet.
Meanwhile, an opposition newspaper claims the rumors on Chavez’s health are meant to be a distraction from the very explosive Aponte testimony.